High volume on California vegetables as desert deal finishes

03/19/2014 07:24:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Courtesy Coastline ProduceA pack and harvest crew works a broccoli field March 19 for Coastline Produce in Salinas, Calif.As vegetables started the spring transition out of desert growing regions, a modest bump in broccoli and cauliflower prices was expected. But overlapping production areas will keep volumes high on most items through March and into early April.

As Yuma, Ariz., and California’s Coachella and Imperial valleys winded down, some production was already underway by mid-March in Huron, Santa Maria and Salinas.

Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., started in Huron March 17 on romaine hearts and leaf lettuce and March 19 on iceberg lettuce, about a week ahead of schedule.

“We began harvesting broccoli, cauliflower and spinach in Salinas March 17, and we’re going through the end of the month with those in Coachella,” said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting for Ocean Mist. “There’s plenty of overlap. Everybody’s in the same boat.”

But broccoli may be lighter than normal in the first two weeks of April. “Salinas is just so early that you’re going to see that gap, especially then,” Barrientos said.

By mid-March, Coastline Produce was already producing all of its broccoli and cauliflower in the Salinas Valley.

“Broccoli and cauliflower both came to a quick end in the desert,” Mark McBride, salesman at Salinas-based Coastline, said March 18. “It’s been warm for an awfully long time and that encourages rapid plant growth. The fields came on quickly and left a light spot. Those markets have perked up, both are $11 to $14.” He expects light broccoli supplies now to the first week of April.

Broccoli in 20 pounds of crown cut shipped from Santa Maria for $10 to $13 on March 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and up to $14.61 out of Salinas. Year-ago prices out of Santa Maria were $6.65 to $7.50; Salinas was $7 to $7.50.

Coastline Produce ended Imperial Valley celery in the second week of March, now packing in Oxnard. Other Imperial items will run to about April 1, as will iceberg lettuce out of Yuma. McBride expected another week of desert romaine and leaf lettuce, with Salinas starting close to April 1.

In Santa Maria, Pacific International Marketing planned to start iceberg lettuce March 21, said Henry Dill, sales manager.

“The biggest adjustment has been that the weather is so mild a lot of the products we have in Santa Maria are 10 to 12 days ahead of the planned start,” Dill said. That includes leaf lettuce, spinach and romaine hearts, which began March 5.

“In a poor market situation, that’s made for a tough start,” he said. “It’s been a challenge having the desert product still coming on and trying to get started in Santa Maria.”

Pacific International grows broccoli and cauliflower year-round in Santa Maria. Dill reports good quality on vegetables grown there.

Compared to about 30 frost days last year in Yuma, he said, there were just a few this year. “These winters were two extremes,” he said.

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